The Art of Thrifting
by ATFDC Contributor Sophie-Marie
I bought my very first vintage piece in Paris, in the fall of my freshman year of college, at a local bar that hosted a vintage sale every week-end. It was a black leather Kelly-style handbag from the late fifties or early sixties. Because it had a little scratch in the bottom, the vendor gave it to me for twenty Euros, which, for Paris, is a steal. Ever since, I’ve taken a deep plunge in the world of vintage and I’ve widened my horizons to consignment stores and thrift shops, the experience of which can be a little intimidating at first but ends up being quite rewarding.
The way I see it, the thing with thrifting is that you practically do the job that vintage boutiques do: you go through many items to find something authentic (after you learn what is authentic), you clean and fix the item and then you have it, for a fraction of what you would pay at a vintage store.
For example, I once went to a huge thrift store in Wheaton, MD (see address below), and I found an authentic Woodward and Lothtrop bag. Well, I don’t like to disclose how much the items I wear cost, but let’s say it was a fraction of the price of the Paris handbag. Another time, I walked into a consignment store in Bethesda and got out with a colourful maxi dress from the seventies, which, I am sure, would have cost a fortune at a Georgetown vintage boutique. My point is, for a set amount, you can get a little vintage with a little work, or a lot of vintage with a lot of work.
So without further ado, here are a few tips to get the most out of your thrifting experience:
- Set an era, learn about it. For me, my favorite fashion era is what we call in French the “Trente Glorieuses”, an era which spans from the end of World War Two to the 1973 oil crisis. Although, I wouldn’t mind the thirties and fourties too, but let’s face it… you won’t find anything authentic from that time in a thrift store. Learn about the fashion in your era (what materials were used, manufacture details, etc), but not only. Setting an era and shopping within its limits at a place where everything is very low-priced will prevent you from compulsively buying too many items that will end up taking too much space.
- Have a vision. Before I plunged into Vintage, my main worry was to look like I was wearing costume (obviously you can imagine why the plunge didn’t take place when I was in high school). So when you’re selecting an item, try to see yourself in it, and think if it would look like you’ve walked out of Saturday Night Fever. Also, look at pictures of women of the time, and try to see what you could adapt with today’s trends. I like to wear mostly accessories during the day, and dresses (Lace… True love) at night. Also, look at celebrities who wear vintage today and try to understand how they balance it.
- Don’t be put off too quickly. Among cheap, low-quality stuff (and plain creepy, like bags of tampons, used make-up and the worst, used hair extensions with remnants of glue on them), you can find real treasures.
- Go for quality. Be cutthroat selective. I don’t care if you’ve found an Alix Grès gown (ok, I might… What, it’s Madame Grès!), but if the fabric is falling apart, if it looks cheap, if it’s torn or stained beyond repair, forget it. Just like relationships that don’t work, it was simply not meant to be. And AVOID fakes like the pest. Seriously. It’s illegal and beyond tacky, and uuugh, I can’t think about it without wanting to yell in horror.
- Once in a while, treat yourself. I have bought a lace day dress from the thirties and a cocktail black lace dress from the sixties in Toulouse, France. I think it is nice sometimes to forget the thrifting and get something from a more upscale vintage boutique, for a special occasion.
- Get a good dry-cleaner. Explains itself, I think.
- Keep looking. A few days ago I went to a thrift store where I found a lot of lace nightgowns that seemed from the fifties (unfortunately they were too tiny for me). I supposed an old and very elegant lady passed away, and her family donated some of her possessions to this store. What I mean is that sometimes, stores receive some good merchandise which you can be lucky to find, but you have to keep checking. And don’t limit yourself to one store. Go to as many as you can, and keep checking!
Here are a few places where I like to treasure-hunt vintage items:
12211 Veirs Mill Road
Wheaton, MD 20906
(They also have branches in Silver Spring and Falls Church)
Montgomery County Thrift Shop
7125 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
7349 Wisconsin Avenue,
Bethesda MD 20814
Sophie-Marie was born in a small French-speaking Mediterranean country and moved to the DC area in 2006. In 2010, she started her freshman year of college at NYU in Paris and then took a gap year during which she used her free time to blog (http://sonushka.com) and cultivate herself as much as possible. History, languages, film, anything about the 1950s and before, literature (19th century French Romanticism is my favourite), opera, are among the many things that inspire her and her style. Follow her on twitter @miss_